His Final Bargain(3)

By: Melanie Milburne

‘Where are you going to sit?’ he asked with a crook of one dark brow.

‘Um…I’ll get a chair from the kitchen…’

‘I’ll get it,’ he said. ‘You take the sofa.’

Eliza would have argued over it except for the fact that her legs weren’t feeling too stable right at that moment. She sat on the sofa and placed her hands flat on her thighs to stop them from trembling. He placed the chair in what little space was left in front of the sofa and sat down in a classically dominant pose with his hands resting casually on his widely set apart strongly muscled thighs.

She waited for him to speak. The silence seemed endless as he sat there quietly surveying her with that dark inscrutable gaze.

‘You’re not wearing a wedding ring,’ he said.

‘No…’ She clasped her hands together in her lap, her cheeks feeling as if she had been sitting too close to a fire.

‘But you’re still engaged.’

Eliza sought the awkward bump of the solitaire diamond with her fingers. ‘Yes…yes, I am…’

His eyes burned as they held hers, with resentment, with hatred. ‘Rather a long betrothal, is it not?’ he said. ‘I’m surprised your fiancé is so patient.’

She thought of poor broken Ewan, strapped in that chair with his vacant stare, day after day, year after year, dependent on others for everything. Yes, patient was exactly what Ewan was now. ‘He seems content with the arrangement as it stands,’ she said.

A tiny muscle flickered beneath his skin in the lower quadrant of his jaw. ‘And what about you?’ he asked with a pointed look that seemed to burn right through to her backbone. ‘Are you content?’

Eliza forced herself to hold his penetrating gaze. Would he be able to see how lonely and miserable she was? How trapped she was? ‘I’m perfectly happy,’ she said, keeping her expression under rigidly tight control.

‘Does he live here with you?’

‘No, he has his own place.’

‘Then why don’t you share it with him?’

Eliza shifted her gaze to look down at her clasped hands. She noticed she had blue poster paint under one of her fingernails and a smear of yellow on the back of one knuckle. She absently rubbed at the smear with the pad of her thumb. ‘It’s a bit far for me to travel each day to school,’ she said. ‘We spend the weekends together whenever we can.’

The silence was long and brooding—angry.

She looked up when she heard the rustle of his clothes as he got to his feet. He prowled about the room like a tiger shark in a goldfish bowl. His hands were tightly clenched, but every now and again he would open them and loosen his fingers before fisting them again.

He suddenly stopped pacing and nailed her with his hard, embittered gaze. ‘Why?’

Eliza affected a coolly composed stance. ‘Why…what?’

His eyes blazed with hatred. ‘Why did you choose him over me?’

‘I met him first and he loves me.’ She had often wondered how different her life would have been if she hadn’t met Ewan. Would it have been better or worse? It was hard to say. There had been so many good times before the accident.

His brows slammed together. ‘You think I didn’t?’

Eliza let out a little breath of scorn. ‘You didn’t love me, Leo. You were in love with the idea of settling down because you’d just lost your father. I was the first one who came along who fitted your checklist—young, biddable and beddable.’

‘I could’ve given you anything money can buy,’ he said through tight lips. ‘And yet you choose to live like a pauper while tied to a man who doesn’t even have the desire to live with you full-time. How do you know he’s not cheating on you while you’re here?’

‘I can assure you he’s not cheating on me,’ Eliza said with sad irony. She knew exactly where Ewan was and who he was with twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

‘Do you cheat on him?’ he asked with a cynical look.

She pressed her lips together without answering.

His expression was dark with anger. ‘Why didn’t you tell me right from the start? You should have told me you were engaged the first time we met. Why wait until I proposed to you to tell me you were promised to another man?’

Eliza thought back to those three blissful weeks in Italy four years ago. It had been her first holiday since Ewan’s accident eighteen months before. His mother Samantha had insisted she get away for a break.

Eliza had gone without her engagement ring; one of the claws had needed repairing so she had left it with the jeweller while she was away. For those few short weeks she had tried to be just like any other single girl, knowing that when she got back the prison doors would close on her for good.